Is logistics ready to go all-electric?

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I recently received an email from a reader who had calculated that if all the lorries on the road switched from diesel to electricity, then the UK would have to generate double the amount of electricity that it does now.

Malory Davies, Editor.

Well, that got my attention, so I thought I would look at what the government is actually planning for. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy published its latest projections late last year.
According to “Updated energy and emissions projections: 2017”, total final electricity consumption is expected to increase to 31,539 ktoe (thousand tonnes of oil equivalent) by 2035 – that is 20 per cent more than in 2017.

The use of electricity in transport is projected to increase from 424 ktoe last year to 1,768 ktoe by 2035. A four-fold increase is not to be sneezed at, but electricity use is still small compared to the use of petroleum products in road transport. Even though this is projected to decline by 14 per cent, it will still be 32,871 ktoe by 2035.

Separately, National Grid has projected that peak electricity demand in 2050 could be as high as 85 GW  compared to 60 GW today. Electric vehicles alone could create an additional demand of 18 GW by 2050, it suggests. (Future Energy Scenarios, July 2017).

And that means more generating capacity along with extra distribution infrastructure will be required to handle this increase.

Not only that, National Grid points out that greener supply scenarios require more generating capacity than traditional technologies because they cannot to produce electricity when there is no sun or wind.

For companies, there are also issues in making the transition to electric equipment.

For example, a recent discussion with a major forklift truck manufacturer highlighted the fact that switching forklifts from lead acid batteries to li-ion has some unexpected pitfalls. Recharging lithium-based batteries typically takes more power than recharging lead-acid. And that can mean that a wholesale switch from lead-acid to li-ion has the potential to overstretch the power supply to the warehouse, requiring an expensive upgrade.

Managing the available power has clearly been exercising minds at UPS, which has just unveiled a technological development that will enable it to increase the number of electric vehicles operating from its central London depot from 65 to all 170 trucks based there.

The smart grid spreads charging throughout the night so that the building can use the power it needs to run the lights, sortation machinery and IT, and ensure that all electric vehicles are fully charged by the time they are needed in the morning, but at the same time never exceed the maximum power available from the grid.

As a society we are clearly on the road to greater use of electricity as a power source. But, as logistics operations seek to make the switch, there is a risk that they could find themselves banging up against capacity limitations both within the national supply network and their own infrastructure. Planning will be critical in any transition.

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